As Mark Twain was so fond of saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Stats can be a powerful tool to bolster a point of view or tell a story in a certain light. But sometimes, you still have to dig a little deeper than what’s on the surface.
Thus, we present some of our favorite numbers from the 2021 season. Some of which tell the story of the thrilling, competitive campaign that it was while others are just straight-up anomalous.
You be the judge.
Statistics courtesy of Racing Insights and Steve Luvender.
• Kevin Harvick did not win a single stage or a race in 2021, but matched his points finish from 2020 (fifth).
The No. 4 driver won just about everything in 2020, including nine races and seven stages.
He was also the only playoff driver to not score any playoff points all season.
• Five drivers won a race, but did not win a stage: AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell.
For what it’s worth, none of these drivers advanced past the Round of 12, while Allmendinger was ineligible for the playoffs as a full-time Xfinity Series driver.
• Chase Briscoe (23rd in points, no wins) completed more miles than Kyle Larson (won the championship).
If you include their dirt-track miles, Larson probably takes the cake here. But just barely.
• Anthony Alfredo led more laps in 2021 than Ryan Newman.
The “Rocketman,” who owns 51 career poles, has certainly gotten used to being at the front of the field over the years. Alfredo has never started better than fifth in any NASCAR national series race.
• Josh Bilicki completed more laps in 2021 than Ryan Blaney.
Blaney, of course, won three races and nearly made the Championship 4.
• Alex Bowman won four races in 2021 but led only 161 laps.
There’s a reason they call him “The Showman” — Bowman was able to close when it counted, making his money late in races to capitalize on days he didn’t dominate.
Bowman had as many wins as Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch — all former champions — combined.
• Eleven different drivers led more laps than Alex Bowman in 2021, but only one won more races (Kyle Larson).
Even Kevin Harvick, who was winless, led more laps than the No. 48 driver.
• Kyle Larson (9.1) and Denny Hamlin (8.4) both had a single-digit average finish in 2021 — the third straight season Hamlin has done so.
What’s it going to take for No. 11 to finally win the championship? An average finish inside the top five?
• Thirty-seven different drivers scored a top-10 finish in 2021, the most since there were 41 in 2007.
Shout-out to Anthony Alfredo, Josh Bilicki, Corey LaJoie, Jamie McMurray, Austin Cindric, B.J. McLeod and Kaz Grala, who all had one each. We see you.
• Austin Dillon had a better average finish than Kurt Busch by one full position but scored 22 fewer points in 2021 (when you remove the point bump for Busch making the playoffs).
Dillon has gotten consistently better year by year at keeping his car clean and maximizing his output, even if he’s not a frequent visitor to Victory Lane. Now entering his prime, keep an eye on him for 2022.
• Five of Michael McDowell’s 11 best career finishes came in 2021, including the top two (Daytona 500 win; third at Talladega-1).
McDowell was also showered in more pieces of confetti (approx. 2,375,890) this season than the rest of his career combined.
• Denny Hamlin finished on the lead lap in 34 races in 2021, his most ever in a season.
There wasn’t much else Hamlin left on the table in ’21. Despite just the two wins, he was exceptional from start to finish.
He was also the only driver to start all 36 races without a DNF. Always delivers, this guy.
• Twice in 2021 the race winner led only the final lap: Michael McDowell at Daytona and Brad Keselowski at Talladega.
Unsurprisingly, these were two of the most exciting laps of the year.
• Christopher Bell is the first Oklahoma-born driver to win a Cup series race.
Kind of a shocking stat when you think about it. Figured it would’ve happened sooner.
• Bristol Dirt winner Joey Logano went winless on asphalt for the first time since 2011.
It’s tough to say what’s more surprising — that, or the fact Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, arguably the sport’s two best dirt drivers, finished 29th and 34th, respectively, in the Bristol Dirt Race that Logano won.
• Daniel Suarez (25th in points) led more laps in 2021 than four race winners.
AJ Allmendinger (five starts) is one, but three of them are full-timers (Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace). Suarez should be viewed as a dark horse contender for next year’s playoffs.
POWER RANKINGS: 2022 NASCAR Cup Series lookahead
• Kyle Larson led 2,581 laps in 2021. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin led a combined 2,614 laps in 2020.
Needless to say, NASCAR had an extremely worthy champion in the year 2021.
• Four race winners ended the season with three or fewer top-five finishes.
That, my friends, is the definition of striking while the iron is hot.
• For the first time in the current championship format (2014-present), the Championship 4 was comprised of all odd-numbered cars.
They say “don’t get mad, get even;” but for the other three drivers who didn’t win this year, the numbers might suggest otherwise.